Kidnapped (Spain, 2010)
For several minutes after Kidnapped finished, I found myself wandering around the house, doing a few domestic things and swearing to myself softly. The swearing didn’t come from anger or frustration, but a shocked sense of disbelief. It has been some time since I have been quite so shaken up by a film, and it is perversely good to discover that one can still have such an effect on me.
Kidnapped is a film that takes a long time to reveal its true nature. For the first 45 minutes or so I thought I had made a mistake in selecting it for the October Horror Movie Challenge. Throughout its first two acts, Kidnapped is a thriller, undeniably a dark and tense one, but not nightmarish enough to qualify as a horror film. When the gloves come off, however, there is no doubt that as to its horror credentials. While it may not have the visceral excesses of films like Martyrs or A Serbian Film, Kidnapped is still a bloody, mean-spirited bruiser that packs some hard emotional punches.
There is nothing especially original about Kidnapped. It is a home invasion film, the likes of which you have probably seen many times before. An upper-middle-class family have just moved into a spacious new home in Madrid when three masked men break into the house and take them hostage. The leader of the gang takes the father out to withdraw money from the family’s various bank accounts, leaving the wife and teenage daughter guarded by his two accomplices. Almost inevitably, one of these accomplices turns out to be too psychopathic to remain professional, and events spiral violently out of control.
Two aspects make Kidnapped stand out. The first is the visual style of the film: the scenes are largely long, single takes, with no cuts, filmed on steadicams. This not only helps build tension, but adds a sense of realism and immersion to some of the scenes that makes the violence and tragedy all the more unbearable. And this leads into the film’s second strength: it is willing to push things to uncomfortable extremes, and has the will to be as dark and brutal as its it needs to see its story through to its grim conclusion.
The grimness of Kidnapped is enough that it risks alienating much of its audience. Despite the fact that the spectre of rape as a threat hangs over the mother and daughter for most of the running time, I was shocked when this threat was actually realised. The resulting scene, late in the film, is unflinching and deeply upsetting, but in no way titillating. I still found myself briefly pulled out of the film, wondering how on earth this was meant to be entertainment.
After some reflection, I appreciated the fact that Kidnapped treats its characters and their predicament realistically. This is a frightened, cowed family, in no way prepared for the kind of gung-ho fight-back we might expect from a more Hollywood version of this story. That is not to say that they are entirely passive — there is plenty of cat-and-mouse action as the mother and daughter attempt to escape and get help, as well as some attempts at violent retaliation. If there is a message to this film, however, it’s that most people are not equipped for violent situations, and will always be at a disadvantage against those who are. If you’ve ever been the victim of violent crime, you have probably learned this lesson the hard way.
While I recommend Kidnapped as a potently unsettling horror film, I do so with a note of caution. This is a film that will cause genuine upset to some people, especially in its portrayal of rape. If you can cope with this and want to be put through an emotional wringer, then you will probably find Kidnapped to be uncomfortable viewing in all the right ways.